After a long debate, the Government unfortunately passed their draconian anti-protest laws with support from the Labor Party. The Greens fought to the very end for the right to protest, and will continue to fight for this fundamental democratic right.
After a long debate, with deliberation and the passing (and blocking) of several amendments, Abigail addressed the Parliament:
I thank all members who contributed to this debate. I am glad that we were allowed to have the debate, despite the Government's best attempts to prevent it. I really wish that the people who contributed to this debate had actually read the regulation or understood it. Firstly, I refer to the contribution by the Hon. Scott Farlow. He gave members a lesson on how you go about notifying of a legal protest in this State. It is under the Summary Offences Act: You notify the authorities that you are going to have your protest, you put your form in, and then you pop out there and you have your protest. That is not what this regulation does. Paragraph (3) of new section 144G states:
(3) Nothing in this section prohibits conduct in accordance with the consent or authority of TfNSW, the NSW Police Force or other public authority.
Under this regulation you cannot just notify the police anymore; you have to get their "consent". To say that nothing is stopping protests in this regulation just shows, I am afraid, that the Hon. Scott Farlow has not read the regulation, has not understood it or the notes that were provided to him did not provide an explanation. This regulation is not the same as what we currently have under the Summary Offences Act. It is not just a notification; you actually have to get approval from the police. We heard a lot from Minister Ward about how this protest activity caused inconvenience. If the concern was, as Minister Ward mentioned, that somebody would not be able to get to medical help or they would not be able to get the medical help that they needed, it is the case that a far more narrow and limited regulation than the one that is before the House could have been produced. The regulation does not only prevent the type of protest that might lead to those circumstances, it is also incredibly broad. It is incredibly broad.
I will not talk about the bill that is coming later, because that goes even further, but I will draw the Hon. Mark Latham's attention to the fact that, while this is targeted at climate protesters, the drafting itself is not limited to climate protesters. These regulations would have caused concern to the so-called freedom rally and the convoys going to Canberra; they would be caught by this as well. Returning to Minister Ward's contribution and the idea that a legal protest is only one that does not cause anybody any inconvenience, it is really interesting that on The Spit Bridge traffic gets stopped six times a day and eight times every weekend and public holiday, to allow people to drive their yachts through it: "That is okay! We do not mind having to wait 10 minutes and missing a medical appointment for a yacht to come through." But when it comes to people who are trying to draw attention to the absolute emergency situation we have here on climate, apparently that level of inconvenience is just way too much for those opposite to handle.
It is absolutely absurd to call these protesters selfish. They are not trying to feather their own nests. They are not trying to encourage their big business mates and get more donors. They are not the selfish ones. These people are protesting because they honestly, genuinely believe that this Government is not taking action on the issues it needs to in order to prevent humanity from ceasing to exist. How could that possibly be selfish? People who are protesting for the rights of animals, people who are protesting for the Government to take action to increase the wages and working conditions of the people on the front line of the pandemic—how on earth could those people be described as selfish? What is selfish is to sit here in a ministerial position on a $300,000-plus salary and lecture the people who you are supposed to be representing on what they can and cannot say, lest it cause you a slight inconvenience on your way to school. If we are going to apply that sort of logic then we should be throwing Minister Elliott in jail for two years for disrupting everybody's journey to work by shutting down the train system arbitrarily.
The Hon. Damien Tudehope: The unions did that, you goose.
Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: I acknowledge the interjection. We have been through this many times, Minister Tudehope. It was not the unions.
The Hon. Damien Tudehope: Of course it was.
Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: So, again, here we are with all of the arguments being put forward for this being completely disingenuous.
The Hon. Damien Tudehope: Here we go.
Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: We are talking here about an incredibly broad regulation. This applies to every bridge and tunnel across the Greater Sydney area, not the Central Coast—perhaps we can still do it on the Central Coast, that would be great—and not in Wollongong.
The Hon. Mark Latham: There you go: "Vote Greens in Terrigal. We'll shut the roads."
Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: But in the rest of Sydney, public or private, if you go and protest on a tunnel or bridge and maybe cause some slight inconvenience to Minister Ward's neighbours then you will find yourself being locked up for two years. When it comes to inconveniencing kids on their way to school, I know—because I actually get out of this place and speak to people—that our youth are more concerned about climate change and the impact on their futures; they are more concerned about the rising economic inequality in our State than they are with missing school for five minutes.
So the idea that this law is all about protecting citizens and freedom of movement—blah, blah—is nonsense. What this regulation is about is stopping protests between now and the Federal election on issues such as climate, because this Government and the Federal Government are absolutely terrified that the people will finally call them out on their inaction and vote them out of both levels of Parliament. As a member of Parliament, you might not like what people have to say, but your job is to listen to what they have to say and not to try and squash dissent. I say again: Who do you think you are that you think your job here is to tell people what they can say, what they can think—
The Hon. Ben Franklin: We're not saying that at all, Abigail.
Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: —and, when you do not like what they have to say, your response is to squash dissent? If that is not the case—
The Hon. Damien Tudehope: You've got a very strange view of the truth.
Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: —if you actually honestly believe that this is a good law for this State, firstly, you bring it in by primary legislation, not by regulation in the middle of the night. You allow debate; you do not try to gag debate on the regulation.
The Hon. Damien Tudehope: We weren't gagging debate. What lunacy is that?
Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: You would send it perhaps to an inquiry; you could do all of sorts of things that would show that you were serious—
The Hon. Damien Tudehope: Oh, more inquiries!
Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: —about creating a law that was not overreach, that was targeted at what you want it to be targeted at, or what you say you want it to be targeted at. But we see this for what it is: This is a cynical attempt to silence dissenting voices in our democracy, and it is an absolute disgrace.
[Government members interjected.]
I acknowledge all of the interjections from the assembled members who have come here because it is almost question time. I note that we have a letter that has been received from a number of organisations against this regulation, who call it an "unconscionable attack" on protest rights. Thirty-nine legal, human rights and community organisations stand with us in calling on this draconian anti-protest regulation to be disallowed.
They include 350.org Australia, the Aboriginal Legal Service, Action Ready, Aid/Watch, Amnesty International, the Asylum Seekers Centre, the Australian Centre for International Justice, the Australian Council of Social Service, the Australian Democracy Network, the Australian Forests and Climate Alliance, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, Bellingen Environment Centre, the Bob Brown Foundation, Community Legal Centres NSW, CounterAct, Dying with Dignity NSW, Forest Conservation Victoria, Forest Defence NSW, Friends of the Earth Australia, Friends of the Forest Mogo, Frontline Action on Coal, Goongerah Environment Centre, Great Southern Forest, the Grata Fund, Greenpeace Australia Pacific, the Human Rights Law Centre, the Inner City Legal Centre, Jesuit Social Services, Legal Observers NSW and many, many more. It is not just The Greens; it is the whole of civil society.
For a full transcript of the debate, see here.